On the day he was drafted — April 30, to be exact — Daniel Bellinger listed the tight ends he watched especially closely. Travis Kelce in the passing game. George Kittle in the pass and run game. Dallas Goedert for his overall technique.
Less than two months later, Bellinger was hanging with these established NFL players, and also with so many other marquee tight ends. The Giants hope some of what Bellinger picked up during that brief stay in Nashville accompanies their promising rookie to the field this season.
“It was unreal, because a year ago I’m watching these guys on TV, waiting for the opportunity,” Bellinger told The Post. “The next year I’m talking to these guys, chopping it up, talking about football and seeing how they do things. It was really cool.”
After his first spring work with the Giants and before reporting to his first NFL training camp, Bellinger in late June traveled to Vanderbilt University to participate in the second Tight End University, a specialized camp and the brainchild of Kelce, Kittle and former NFL tight end turned broadcaster Greg Olsen. For three days, Bellinger — a fourth-round draft pick from San Diego State — other rookies, mid-level veterans and established stars gathered and analyzed all things tight end.
Putting his awe aside as best he could, Bellinger assimilated all he could and the results are showing thus far this summer.
The sight of No. 45 in blue hauling in short and intermediate passes, mostly from Daniel Jones, during the first four days of Giants camp indicates how the coaching staff views Bellinger. He is working mostly with the starting offense and it will be no surprise at all if this is where Bellinger lines up on Sept. 11, when the Giants open their season against the Titans in — you guessed it — Nashville.
“Seeing how they do it,” Bellinger said, recounting what he took away from Tight End University. “They’re so technical in details that once I’m able to work on those fine details, it’s so small, one step can get you 5 yards of separation for a 10-, 20-yard gain.”
Bellinger said “the best thing” he feels he got out of the tight end convention was listening to Kelce, the Chiefs star, talking about reading and reacting to what the defense is presenting.
The player he admits he was most excited to meet was Darren Waller, a 2015 sixth-round pick of the Ravens who has evolved into an explosive pass-catching force for the Raiders. Bellinger is from Las Vegas and so Waller is his hometown tight end.
“He’s a lot bigger in person than I thought he was,” Bellinger said. “He’s all of 6-6, he’s a cool guy. He does these release moves, it’s crazy. Try to learn some stuff from him.”
Bellinger at 6-foot-5 and a muscular 255 pounds has all the size he needs. The new front-office regime believes Bellinger will be a more-than-capable blocker and views his modest production as a college receiver — 68 receptions for 771 yards and five touchdowns in 31 games — as a function of limited opportunity, not limited ability.
There was a knowing nod from Bellinger when his San Diego State stats were mentioned.
“I got this question a lot in college, the numbers, the numbers,” he said. “How I look at it is, ‘How can you help a team win,’ right? If that means me getting 1,000 yards receiving, OK, but if that means me getting 100 yards receiving and having to put my hand in the dirt — whatever it takes for us to win is how I see it. In college, we didn’t get that many numbers but we had the most wins this last season, so for me it’s about winning and whatever it took to win.”
Indeed, the Aztecs were 12-2 in 2021, with Bellinger catching a career-high 31 passes.
Bellinger reported to his first NFL camp and immediately was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list, with a quad injury. This surprised him a bit. “I knew when I was on it I was doing everything I could to get off it,” he said. Sure enough, Bellinger was cleared on Day 1 and has not missed a single snap.
The same cannot be said for Ricky Seals-Jones and Jordan Akins, two veteran tight ends new to the team, who both have missed some time thus far. At this point, it will be an upset if Bellinger does not emerge as the No. 1 tight end — although, to be fair, he has not engaged in a fully padded practice yet; that comes on Monday.
Not every rookie gets to fight for the No. 1 spot. Bellinger is excited by this.
“Oh yeah, I feel a tremendous opportunity for that,” he said. “I’m thankful for that but I got to attack that opportunity.”